What Does This Generation Think It Means to be a "Scientist"?

By Chris Mooney | April 8, 2009 11:36 am

This is the subject of my latest Science Progress column, in which–following on this important editorial by Bruce Alberts in Science–I celebrate the rich diversity of career choices that young scientists seem to be making–a diversity that could ultimately redefine the term “scientist” itself. An excerpt:

I agree with Alberts that there appears to be a paradigm shift out there, a generational change in the science world. It’s not merely that science grad students and postdocs don’t want to grow up to become their professors or advisers; it’s also that in many cases, they simply can’t. The academic opportunities just aren’t there; there has been a marked constriction of opportunity in the ivory towers. Furthermore, many students don’t see a life of academic specialization as the best way to employ their scientific talents. They recognize that specialization’s disadvantages go hand in hand with its advantages. They want to do something more, to bring science to the rest of America.

And America needs them.

You can read the full column here, where you’ll notice that it also celebrates my coblogger as the epitome of this new trend…


Comments (7)

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  1. There is also the problem of the number of grad students/postdocs surpassing the available number of academic positions, nicely illustrated here:

  2. MadScientist

    I didn’t want to be saddled with the responsibility of teaching and trying to bring in the research grants – for all that effort I’d rather work in industry and continue to do my own research – I may still have to work to get the research money, but at least I have no teaching obligations. I don’t mind spending time teaching people who genuinely want to learn, but in general undergrad teaching is just the pits for me.

    I have also watched universities be pinched for more money: more students to teach, smaller budgets, etc – all pretty horrible. I’ve seen departments get rid of their technical staff, essentially losing the ability to build their own instrumentation. I believe that once the ability to build your own tools is gone, it’s rare indeed that you’re doing any decent research. The way I see it is that if you have the great minds, they will always have a desperate need to build new tools for the next small step in exploration. If you can only buy tools that others have developed, your research becomes severely limited and maybe even unoriginal. Because of such things, working at a university simply did not appeal to me. I still do my best to keep in touch with the academe and to collaborate, but I also do my best to stay out of the academe.

    I agree with the general conclusion though that it’s good to have more people with scientific training; if anything, hopefully they can at least think well.

  3. Michael

    I get results! Defending non-scientist “scientists” like Sheril suggests valid criticism.

    The government employs a large amount of scientists, they don’t teach they just work. The pay is often meager, so some prefer “industry”.

    Science is hard and it’s not for everyone.

  4. I tried hard to get an academic postdoc but because of lack of funding now have to settle for an industrial one. Hopefully things will be better next year.

  5. Let me amend that; I definitely like the industrial postdoc, but my first choice would have been an academic one.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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